Jewish Communal Professionals: Get Thee to an Attorney

This week featured a situation that emerged involving a Jewish communal professional who lost her job shortly after an article critical of the Jewish community’s approach to young adult engagement was published (http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/40-plus-and-screwed-more-on-less-young-adult-engagement/, http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-cost-of-criticism/). Exactly what the chain of events was is not known to me. Already there is great concern and finger pointing as to the extent to which communal professionals can criticize the organizations in which they work or the field in general. In the days and weeks ahead, much will be written and said on the topic. My take is somewhat different: Jewish professionals need to be proactive in many types of situations, and should have an attorney they can turn to.

Oddly enough, most professionals and business people have legal resources on speed dial. Doctors know that they will need legal help at some point; accountants consult regularly with attorneys; consultants of every make and model get legal advice. Yet, for some reason, Jewish communal professionals allow themselves to be subject to all sorts of pressures and whims, without picking up the phone and finding out what their rights are. We are even warned by some of our leaders (and I was warned by a past supervisor) not to seek legal recourse, lest I be considered a trouble maker and be exiled from the profession.

Full disclosure: I have made sure to get myself legal advice over the 30+ years in the field: when a teacher hadn’t read his employment contract, to times when I suspected parental abuse, to having hiring contracts reviewed, and even to being threatened (yes, it does happen, even in Jewish organizations). Not only to protect myself, but also to be fair to the organizations that I have served.

I hope that Ms. Kohane will determine what her rights are and whether they have been violated. And I also hope that we in the field, at any level, will take a lesson from this and seek the advice we need without fear. We always stand up for our members, donors, and clients. We can and should stand up for ourselves.

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